Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Indifferentism and illusion

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has had a couple of great posts recently about what he says when people tell him their adult children are no longer Catholic.  The first is here; the second is the one I want to share here today:
So they went church shopping, and they found that the other churches had better merchandise. If they were looking for wonderful music, beautiful architecture and fine liturgy the Episcopalians did all that better than the Catholics (who were busy building concrete flying saucers to worship in) If they were looking for gung ho youth groups, happy music and powerful Biblical preaching the Baptists did that better than the Catholics. If they wanted relevant hip hop sermons with big screens, bagels and a latte–the community church sure did that better than the Catholics. If they wanted groovy, soothing music, easy going services and a feel good sermon “contemporary worship stream” at the mainstream Protestant church filled the need. The Catholics were simply doing Protestant badly.

in the meantime, all the things that were really distinctive and unique about the Catholic faith we, in America, put up at a kind of ecclesiastical yard sale. Eucharistic adoration, the real presence of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the altar, the apostolic authority, the papacy, the church fathers, the communion of the saints, images of saints, pilgrimages, the promise of heaven and the pains of hell, the need for confession and the sanctity of marriage….if they weren’t exactly put up at a yard sale, at least they were stashed away in the attic in order to make way for a bland, watered down, wall  to wall carpeting version of Catholicism that was a mix between a Protestant church, Dr Phil and a poorly done nightclub singing act…and the amazing thing is a huge number of American Catholics liked the result. If you don’t believe me try introducing Gregorian chant or something called a hymn to an AmChurch parish.
I can provide evidence of Father's claim: our choir used to sing a Latin Chant Mass setting during Lent, and a parishioner threw such a public fit about it that our pastor asked us not to sing the Latin anymore.  We changed to an English Mass setting for Lent: an English Chant setting of the new translation, that is.

I liked this part of Father Longenecker's post, too:
The third aspect of indifferentism is simply being indifferent. Careless. Complacent. Worldly. Lacking in passion. Lukewarm. Boring. The reason I am a committed Christian and a passionate Catholic today is because I grew up with people who really believed the old, old story of mankind’s fall from grace and God’s saving sacrifice. My parents not only took us to church. They lived a life of sacrifice. My Dad–with five kids and a failing business–gave 15% of his income to the church and we knew it and were proud of his action. We met missionaries who gave their lives to go and live in the jungle with their families to bring the gospel to aboriginal tribes living in fear and darkness. We met refugees from Russia who had been imprisoned for their faith and escaped with nothing but the shirt on their back and had set up missions to smuggle Bibles into communist lands.

This third aspect of indifferentism is the worst of all. It tames Aslan. It waters down the wine. It replaces the fire of the Holy Spirit with one of those tacky fake candles you pay a nickel for and press a switch. Why do they leave? It’s not hard to figure out. They say it themselves–as some folks in the combox have pointed out. They asked their kids why they didn’t believe the Catholic faith and the answer was stark and simple: “If it really is the body and blood of Christ and he is really present–why don’t Catholics–priests included (or should I say priests especially) behave as if it is so?  They have shopped elsewhere and found other Christians who seem to love Jesus Christ more and wish to serve him with their whole lives.

Read the whole thing.

I really think Father is on to something with this talk of indifferentism.  We do want to work for Christian unity, of course; we do want to avoid making idols out of the aesthetics of the Mass; we do know that people who have a vocation to be, say, a wife and mother shouldn't abandon that vocation to take up street preaching in a city 500 miles away--at least, not without the blessing of her pastor and the willingness of her family.  But indifferentism is different from these things, because it makes us believe that nothing we do really much matters, because we're all God's good friends and He doesn't really care if we show up at a particular Church on Sunday.  That He died and rose and sent the Holy Spirit to establish this particular Church gets left out of the conversation.

And indifferentism weakens the soul, so that when the real crisis of faith comes, the exit door looks like a good option.

What to I mean by "the real crisis of faith?"  Well, I'm a cynic, and I recall something Fulton Sheen once said that made a lot of sense to me: he said that whenever a brother priest would say he was struggling with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, he would ask his brother, "Blond, brunette, or redhead?"  The point was simple: a few unique people out there may lay awake nights pondering doctrine, but most of us only start questioning the doctrines of our faith when we want a good excuse to ignore it, to deny it, or to leave it altogether.

There are a lot of Catholics who want to fornicate without feeling guilty about it.  There are a lot of  Catholics who want to marry outside the Church without promising to raise the kids Catholic or getting the appropriate permissions.  There are a lot of Catholics who want to marry people who aren't free to marry--someone whose first marriage was valid, that is.  There are a lot of Catholics who want to use birth control.  There are a lot of Catholics who want to sleep late on Sunday mornings and go out for pancakes when they do get up.

And if the kind of indifferentism Father Longenecker has been talking about has been infecting their spiritual lives, then pretty soon the indifferentism plus the desire to sin without consequence (or even without admitting to themselves that they are sinning) adds up to a decision to leave the Church.  "After all," such a person is inclined to think, "I'm a good person, and I love Jesus.  And Jesus doesn't care if I shack up with my boyfriend or use birth control with my husband or marry outside the Church.  Those rules were all invented by people who just wanted to control people's lives, not by Jesus.  If I feel in my heart that my preferred sin is really not such a big deal, not a sin at all, then that's all Jesus cares about."  And having created a fictional Jesus who didn't exactly found the Church and isn't her Spouse who died for her on the Cross and so forth, they settle down in apparent comfort into whichever church makes them feel the best and nicest about themselves, and never really challenges them on that particular sin they cherish so much--even if lots of challenging things are said by dynamic preachers which, when examined, don't require anybody to restructure their lives radically according to the Gospel (or at all).

But the churches of nice are illusions, in the end. 

1 comment:

vera said...

What a great rant! I esp. like the bland, wall to wall carpeting part. Yeah. Right on. And why would your whole parish be intimidated by one parishioner pitching a fit? That makes no sense...

"There are a lot of Catholics who want to sleep late on Sunday mornings and go out for pancakes when they do get up." Ha! That's the one that gets people the most, I think... nailed it.

There is one bit Father says that jolted me, though. This one: "We met missionaries who gave their lives to go and live in the jungle with their families to bring the gospel to aboriginal tribes living in fear and darkness." Cough. In the face of the history of tribal destruction by missionaries who bring devastating diseases, and blunder in with culture-destroying practices, this seems a particularly, er, willfully blind statement. It is, IMO, us civilizoids who brutally trample all others who are the ones living in "fear and darkness" -- and it is our fear and darkness that so devastates aboriginal communities so that they soon cease to exist. And we do it to natural ecologies too, without even the missionary excuse...